Wood-carving master Bill Edwards (left) presents former college football coach Dennis Franchione with a 'Hand-Held Cross.' Edwards created the piece and gives one to each speaker of the Men of Faith gathering. Franchione was the guest speaker during the Jan. 9 gathering. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro
STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
HORSESHOE BAY — Being a college football coach, especially with programs such as the University of Alabama and Texas A&M University, can test a man’s faith. But for retired college coach and Horseshoe Bay resident Dennis Franchione, his biggest tests really had nothing to do with the gridiron.
Franchione, who spoke during the Men of Faith gathering Jan. 9 at The Church at Horseshoe Bay, shared with the audience three of his toughest struggles: the deaths of his mom, dad, and sister.
The younger Franchione didn’t have much faith in God, but he found out he needed it.
During his visit with the Men of Faith, Franchione was happy to talk football. After all, it was the day after the University of Alabama snapped the National Championship from the jaws of the Georgia Bulldogs.
But he also went into some tougher places during his talk.
While Franchione’s faith in God is strong today, he recalled being 23 and feeling as if his world were falling apart and there was no one to lean on.
His mother, Franchione told the group, had underwent surgery that year during her battle against cancer. She died six months later.
The day after, Franchione’s father took his own life. He and his sister were the ones who found him. As devastating as that was, the elder Franchione had used his son’s gun to do it.
“My faith probably wasn’t strong enough to handle that,” he said. “My emotions were everywhere. I always heard that God was a loving God. I couldn’t understand. My emotions turned to anger. I didn’t understand it.”
But the coach found a path that led to a closer relationship with God, and he’d need it almost three decades later. As difficult as his father’s death was on him, Franchione said his sister “was really depressed.”
While he was the head coach at Texas A&M University from 2003-07, he received a call that his sister also took her own life. As he spoke of his father’s and sister’s deaths, his voice broke and he asked for a minute.
Then, he told the gatherers the reason he gave his testimony was to encourage those in attendance to build a personal relationship with God and find other like-minded people who will help strengthen that spiritual walk.
Of course, Franchione, who is often called “Coach Fran,” talked about football. The retired coach told the Men of Faith members that he could relate to current Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s reaction when Crimson Tide kicker Andy Pappanastos missed a 36-yard field goal on the last play of regulation in the Jan. 8 title game that would have won the championship.
Franchione shared the story of one freshman kicker who was having trouble getting the ball through the uprights during practice. After three days of seeing shank, hook, shank, hook, the coach called the kicker over to ask him the reason for the misses.
“Coach, you make me nervous,” he said.
“You better get used to that,” Franchione said, “because I go to all the games.”
Franchione, who retired after 40 years of coaching, said he was ever only interested in football – either as a player or as a coach.
He still loves football and all that goes with it: the strategy, the relationships, and the various roles coaches take on for their players.
While their time on the field together has come to an end, some of those relationships he built with his players continues today. Once such relationship is with former Burnet High School and Aggies quarterback Stephen McGee, whom Franchione recruited to play for Texas A&M from 2004-2007.
Franchione said the bond the two developed went beyond player and coach.
“(McGee) has a great family, he’s so articulate, and is such a devoted Christian,” he said.
The two still communicate, with the former quarterback vowing to teach his retired coach a thing or two about golf. But, so far, the coach continues to give the lessons, even on the course.
Franchione said he’s thankful to live in the Highland Lakes and enjoys playing golf as often as he can.
“We live in a great place,” he said. “What makes it a great place are the people who are here. We love being here. I miss coaching and players, but (when it comes to the grind of coaching), about the only thing I miss now are putts.”